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Why do English writers avoid explicit numerals?

In German, numbers below (and including) twelve are spelt out (eins, zwei, ...) while the numbers above twelve are usually written as numbers (13, 14, ...).

It's an informal rule, but still. Is this similar in English?

  • 3
    There is an interesting "hybrid" convention with large numbers, especially with currency. Most publications will use $23 million or $1.5 billion rather than listing out all the zeros.
    – Jay
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 2:39
  • I seem to remember this question, or something related, has been asked or answered on this site before… Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 5:42
  • @ShreevatsaR: indeed, in fact it's one of the most popular questions ever (rank four by the number of votes): Why do English writers avoid explicit numerals?
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 10:38

2 Answers 2


One convention is that we spell out 1 to 9, and use numerals from 10 onwards. There are other conventions. However, if you have a sentence in which numbers in both categories appear, it may be better to standardize by using only words or only numerals. For example,

He has eleven bananas while I have two.

He has 11 bananas while I have 2.

  • +1 for mentioning consistency. That's a very important point.
    – Maxpm
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 2:44

It depends. Different publications enforce different style rules about this. The Associated Press Style Guide prefers numbers up to ten to be spelled out, and anything over (including 11), to be put into numerals.

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